We need to talk about pensions with upcoming generations

How many times have we talked to our children, grandchildren, friends and neighbours about the issue of pensions, only to get the deer in the headlights look? I believe that it is one of the duties of those around the age of retirement to reach out to younger people about the importance of preparing for retirement. We know that Stephen Harper is doing all he can to make the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) unsustainable and to make people work longer to receive the benefits. 

I know that many of our younger workers are working at minimum wage jobs and that surviving is very tough these days, but young people must start saving early -- even starting with $10 a payday, and as they manage that, upping the amount gradually so that when they are ready to retire they will have something to fall back on. I know they feel that they can't make ends meet now, but by starting small and increasing gradually they will learn to save and see the results as their pension grows.

I was not able to purchase RRSPs until I was in my late 40s because I was a single parent with three children. I ignored the advice to save with the excuse that I could not afford it and I am living proof of someone who is struggling in retirement now. I have many friends and neighbours who do not have retirement funds from their employment and they are struggling to make ends meet monthly. I am lucky that I worked in a unionized environment and do have a small pension coming from my 29 years in the working world, but I still struggle to make it from one month to the next and find myself always dipping into what little savings I have.

We need to educate workers that pensions are not automatic nor do they happen by magic. Many pension plans only came about because of unionized workers walking picket lines in many strikes. Today's workers must realize that this is one item that must never be removed from collective bargaining agreements. As with any benefit, once lost in negotiations it can never be won back.

We need to educate young workers on the concept of "deferred income" and the differences between "defined benefit plans" versus "defined contribution plans." 

We must find a way to educate and empower workers of all ages so that there are not more seniors living below the poverty line in Canada. We need to engage young people in this discussion. For their part, young people need to question those in power about how they can help to improve pensions for all workers. Together with retirees, they need to have those tough discussions on how to proceed.

Retiree Matters is a monthly column written by members of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) that explores issues relevant to retirees, senior citizens, their families and their communities. CURC acts as an advocacy organization to ensure that the concerns of union retirees and senior citizens are heard throughout Canada.

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